How to Meal Plan on a Budget

I received an email and comment lately asking if I could outline exactly how I meal plan for my family and so here we are. I don’t know how to explain this easily in written form so I hope it’s easy to understand!

I can’t stress the importance of meal planning enough. Yes, it can be time-consuming but once you get used to doing it, it becomes second nature. Like anything, practice helps.

My specific meal planning involves a lot of list making, and remaking. To start I make a quick list with the days of the week and a quick note of anything of significance going on sort of like this:

M:

T:

W: hubby soccer 9pm- light dinner

R:

F: eat out date- No cooking!

S: 4pm church- slow cooker meal.

Su:

This helps me visualize my week and what sort of meals I will be looking to plan. I used to just write all over a calendar but I like having a little list/note on my actual grocery list to remind me why I’m buying certain things (like why I’m doubling a recipe because we’re having friends over when normally I don’t buy so much).

Once the week is planned out in my head I look to see what we have already. To start, I have a quick look to see what’s in the house already and see if there is anything I can plan around before going any further. For example, right now I have a bunch of crushed tomatoes and kidney beans in the pantry, I also have some cut up peppers in the freezer so I will add lean ground beef to my list of ”needs” to make chili for the week. One meal (and lunch leftovers) planned already!

After see what I have in the house already, I head to the flyers to see what is on sale and head to my personal recipe book. This is something I keep updated of meals we like so I have a go-to when we’re thinking ”what do we want to eat this week?”. The book itself is a simple three ring binder of sorts that I keep everything in and organized. Sometimes it’s a simple recipe like ”Grilled cheese sandwich with fixings (avocado, bacon and tomato)”. Not that I need directions to make something like this but it acts more of a reminder when making my shopping lists up.

After I check the flyers I fill in my daily list and now it will look more like this, noting only what I don’t already have:

M: Rotisserie chicken from Costco (make side of steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes)

Need: Chicken bought monday at Costco

T: Club sandwiches w/ home fries (using leftover rotisserie chicken)

Need: bacon, lettuce

W: hubby soccer 9pm: Spaghetti w/ dinner rolls

Need: Pasta sauce, rolls

R: Breakfast supper (bacon, homemade homefries, fruit salad, toast)

Need: Bacon, fruit for salad (already have apples and oranges)

F: eat out date- No cooking!

S: 4pm church- slow cooker meal- Chili (double recipe and freeze leftovers in serving size for lunch)

Need: 2lbs lean ground beef

Su: Sweet and sour meatballs and rice

Need: 2lbs ln ground beef, can of pineapple chunks

Things to note:

  • In this example, lean ground beef was on sale so I opted to have a few meals around that.
  • I try to plan meals that make a lot, and could eat for leftovers, early in the week. Having meatballs on Sunday means we’d have an easy lunch option for both Monday and Tuesday if we wanted.
  • I don’t plan something like a roast unless it’s on sale.
  • Breakfasts supper is one of our favorite go-to’s when all else fails.
  • Potatoes are super easy to make a million different ways so we eat them often (mashed, boil with butter/salt/pepper, home fries, french fries, stews&casserole base ). I bought a 15lb bag of potatoes for $2.00 so I plan on eating them!
  • Don’t forget about frozen fruit and veggies!
  • I only like to do one week at a time so I can capitalize on the best sales but nothing is stopping you from doing more.
  • Doing a ”big cook” can be hugely convenient and save a lot of time (especially on maternity leave!).

That’s the quick and dirty way I meal plan. My lists are atrocious with chicken scratch all over them but they keep me sane, I couldn’t imagine grocery shopping without them!

How do you plan your meals? Any tips to add?

Renewing Our Mortgage Early Saved Us Big Bucks!

We’re four months away from our mortgage renewal date so it has been at the forefront of my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about achieving our financial goals and things we can do to help them so we can move forward into the next stages of our lives.

I’ve mentioned before that we will indefinitely be moving from this home. We purchased this home knowing it wasn’t going to be forever, it’s simply too small for a family larger than what we have. Even now we’re borrowing storage room from family since this home seriously lacks it. With our goals in mind, we had to decide what we wanted in our mortgage when time came.

One thing was for sure, we were hoping for a lower interest rate. We went through a broker when we purchased our home five years ago when rates were ”as low as they will ever be”. I think the average rate was a full 1+% lower within six months of us moving in. These are things we obviously can’t predict but the rates are certainly better now than they were offered to us five years ago.

The other thing we needed to start thinking about was our future. If our plan falls into place and we’re (non-mortgage) debt free in less than three years, we will be moving between years three and four. We ruled out signing to a five year term almost immediately. We want the option of seeing where things are (financially) in three to four years.

We opted to re-sign our mortgage at four years. We’ll be debt free in just under three years and won’t be jumping right into a major move immediately. I have to consider our plan may have some hiccups delaying our pay-off date a bit, as well we need time. We’ll need quite a few months to get our affairs in order, and actually house-hunt, before we move so a four year term seemed appropriate for us.

In terms of our first wish of a lower interest rate? With an early renewal rate (penalty free) we saved 1.35% which equates to six years saved off amortization if we opted to keep payments the same or an extra $180 per month for debt if we keep amortization period the same. Given our goals we opted to use the extra money to pay down debt, the faster we can get out, the better right?

I did shop around a little before signing the final papers. I happen to have a friend who does mortgage lending and she assured me everything was as good as it sounded, we got a really great deal.

I’m really glad we looked into early renewal options rather than just signing the auto-generated package that would likely come in the mail in the upcoming weeks!

Gifts I Want For Christmas That Aren’t Things

wpid-20141201_222038.jpgWhy is it so hard to believe some people really don’t want things?

I don’t consider myself difficult to shop for but I think most people would argue this point. The reason being is that people have a hard time accepting some people really don’t want things. I don’t necessarily live like a total minimalist but I have a minimalism mindset and have little use for stuff in my life.

I know there are people out there who can relate but for the most part, I just don’t want things. Most people I know have lists long of things they want. Don’t get me wrong, there are things I want, or need, in this world, like underwear or a pair of new jeans but these are things that are more of a need and things I’d rather just buy myself, with my money not receive as a gift.

Instead of any one thing, these are things I want for Christmas, that really aren’t things at all.

Time with my family and friends. The reason I look forward to this time if year so much is that it is family time on steroids and I LOVE IT. I’m lucky that my family is close and we see each other frequently but I especially love just being with them during this super special time of year (interpret ”super special” time of year per whatever beliefs you may or may not hold).

Eating, drinking and more eating. I love food. I love the food I only eat this time of year the most. Give me a plate with some delicious cheese and I’m a happy camper. There is a ton of food we as the family save to make this time of year and I look forward to it every year.

Creating tradition. Especially now that we have a child I love creating memories with her. Some old traditions passed on and some new. Memories are the very best gift of all!

A break. I really take the time to enjoy all of the above. It’s a crazy time of year but I look forward to the rest of my life slowing down, my job, this blog, daily routine. It all takes a break and allows me to refocus my priorities.

Christmas is my favorite time of year for a million reasons, gifts not being one of them. While gifts will be exchanged, and I spend a lot of time and effort into them, it’s not what I’m looking forward to the most.

What is your favorite part of the Christmas season?

Are Daily, Invisible, Lifestyle Inflations Interfering With Your Goals?

We all know about lifestyle inflation and how detrimental it can be to ones budget. The more money we make the higher propensity we have to spend, and the larger the lifestyle we tend to live. When trying to reach financial goals, lifestyle inflation can be killer.

It’s easy to say getting a raise or making more money somehow is the ticket to reaching said goals, but if we don’t appropriate the money, then it gets absorbed into our daily cash flow and it’s too easy to overlook the increase in spending.

Maintaining a budget and tracking your spending is the only way to ensure that when extra money does become available, it isn’t absorbed into inflation. What we often overlook though, are the invisible, daily, opportunities for inflation to creep in.

In the past few weeks gas has gone down drastically where we live. A fill-up for us used to near $100 and now, with the sharp decreases (down 0.36/L from its highest) it’s closer to $75, while still a lot of money, is a big difference in our budget. Given that we were used to budgeting approximately $100 per week for gas now that it’s only $75, practically speaking, we should be appropriating the ”extra” money towards our financial goals, but we’re not.

This isn’t even anything I noticed initially. I’d see the extra cash in the accounts and allow it to get absorbed by spending more on groceries or eating out when really, that $25 should be used for reaching our goals. If gas stayed this price for a month that’s a $100 difference, or almost 1/4 what we were short in last months financial goals.

These day-to-day lifestyle inflation opportunities are everywhere when I look at my budget. Our December daycare bill is significantly lower because of vacation and holidays, while this difference should, again be put towards our goals it seems to be absorbed in extra spending for the month. Over time these seemingly invisible opportunities for lifestyle inflation is allowing us to miss out on hundreds of dollars a year towards our goals. Instead we ignore the opportunities and spend more than we’d like, or need.

I’m happy to say that since taking time to notice these daily lifestyle creep opportunities, I have gone forth and fiddled around with our projected budget and for the first time in a long time, altered the amounts of spending we get, putting more money towards our goals.

Avoiding these invisible lifestyle inflation creeps can be easily avoided if you’re one to track your spending a whole lot more diligently than I. While I monitor our money closely I am far from pinching every penny but near-miss opportunities like this remind me why it (literally) pays to keep a closer eye on things.

Do you allow ”invisible lifestyle inflation” to interfere with your goals?

November Debt Repayment Update: Annual Goal Met

I am in total and complete denial that it’s December. It has been unusually warm here so it has been totally screwing with my internal clock. No, I haven’t done any Christmas shopping…the worst is over though, we have made a list and just need a day to execute it sans child.

November wasn’t as stellar as I was hoping. Like Holly, we had quite a few unexpected expenses, most due to my husbands work travel expenses, some of which we’ll recoup but had to take out of our cash flow for now. Better than going into debt right?

To remind you, we need to be putting $2,068 towards debt every month to meet our target. This month we came in a little short at $1,574. I’m hoping to make this difference up in the next few months but I’m not going to worry too much about it right now. I also want to beef up the ER fund a bit more so we’ll see how things work out.

This time last year I published a post about finally breaking the 100k (worth of debt) goal. At the time, early November 2013, we owed about 97k and in the same post I wrote out the goal of hoping to enter 2015 owing less than 78k. I’m happy to report that as of today, we owe approximately $77,700. Entering 2015 I suspect we’ll owe about $77,000. We were able to pay off 20k worth of principal alone in the last year. I didn’t know if we’d meet it but we did :)

How are your goals coming along?

What To Do When a Couple Doesn’t Agree on a Large Purchase

wpid-2014-11-30-17.19.40.png.pngI have a financial confession. This weekend my husband went out and bought a new, over-the-top television. Did we need one? Nope. Did my husband really want one? Yup. Could we have used this money in other ways? Yup again. But we didn’t. While my frugal heart strings were pulled really tight as he rang the purchase up, I didn’t have much to say about the matter.

My husband, the main TV watcher in the family, has been pining for a new TV for about two years now, always (realistically) putting his desires aside so we could reach our financial goals. A few months ago when while visiting family, my husbands desire increased exponentially while playing with his grandfather’s new super-duper 60’’ TV (with me rolling my eyes at every praise he mentions). It took some time, but I accepted that he really wants this, probably as much as I want our debt paid off, so we needed to compromise.

Given the size of the purchase, we really needed to discuss the purchase. While we don’t consult on every purchase, anything more than about $50 we at least mention to the other person regardless of its ‘’importance’’. We have 100% combined finances and needless to say, I’d notice if he just went and dropped $1,000 on a television without talking to me. After I got over the initial stage of acceptance, we needed to come up with a plan to make us both happy.

There was no way I was going to allow our regularly budgeted funds to be used for such an unnecessary purchase, nor was my husband asking us to compromise any one thing or any goals. We wouldn’t be using budgeted Christmas funds or extra debt money for this purchase which left us with one option. We’d need to earn it over and above our regular funds and additional debt payments. I say we but I mean he.

Though our funds are combined, we have to agree on all family purchases and this was, and still is in my mind, an unnecessary purchase. But guess what? There is two of us in this marriage and just because we’re together doesn’t mean I get to make all the decisions. I could just as easily spend $1,000 on new stuff for the house like bedding and casserole dishes, things my husband couldn’t care at all about, it goes both ways. Our rule is that if we want something that we do not agree on as a couple, we have to earn it outside our regular family money or income, which he did.

My husband has been working a ton of overtime and travel, both of which he gets additional income for. Though we could have used this money for debt, we were still on track for our monthly target which keeps me happy. While I’d love to have put that money onto our debt as well it was his money and he could do what he wanted with it.

With a plan in place we were able to execute both additional debt payments (or in the case of this month, additional savings- more on that later) as well, he got his big ‘ol TV. While it’s ‘’his baby’’ I’d be lying if I didn’t say watching sports on it is pretty spectacular (Shhhh don’t tell him I said so!).

How do you manage purchases you and your spouse don’t agree on?

Giving To Those in Need- On a Budget!

Though I think those fortunate enough should give back to those in need whenever they’re able to, this time of year seems to be the most crucial. This doesn’t always mean handing out cash though. Even in my days with limited additional cash (arguably now with debt repayment goals), I have found ways to give back to people less fortunate.

Donate Old Prescription Eye Glasses

Most people don’t realize that your old prescription eye glasses can be used by someone else. Optometry clinics, and some pharmacies, will have drop off boxes you can donate your unused prescription glasses in to be used by someone else in need, often in third world countries.

Round up Your Credit Card Purchases

This is a new concept currently used by a few banks and credit unions. It’s called ”ChangeIt”. According to their website:

ChangeIt lets you automatically round-up your debit, credit, or mobile wallet purchases and donate the difference to causes you care about.

I love this idea, especially for people who use their credit cards often. ChangeIt rounds your purchases up to the next dollar amount and donates that money to a cause of your choice, which is key. Smaller donations like this throughout the year is a much easier way to ”give” than a lump sum come end of year too.

Donate Your Stuff

Anytime I have stuff to get rid of I always donate it to a local store that uses the profits for one of two local charities that I support. Someone else gets to enjoy my unwanted stuff while the local charities benefit from the profits made, win-win.

Volunteer

This is pretty self-explanatory but giving yourself and your time to someone or some cause in need is always appreciated. Especially at this time of year there is no shortage of need.

Look for Opportunity in Your Daily Life

I work with a very diverse clientele in my job. I see everyone from the richest socialites to the poorest recovering addicts. When someone in need comes in, and there is something I can do, I usually capitalize on it. It may be a free fluoride treatment or getting them some dental supplies they may not be able to afford, it’s something though. I’ve also done simple things like giving my ‘free cookie with coffee’ purchase away. Simply asking your friends, family, church or community if there is anything you can do to help is a great deed.

Our current primary goal is to pay debt off, which, for us, means allocating all necessary funds toward said goal. That doesn’t however excuse us from helping those in need. As mentioned, we should do good deeds year round but heart strings are pulled especially tight during the holiday season, please give what, and when, you can.

How Much Will You Spend on Christmas?

christmas treeAccording to last year’s statistics, Canadians planned on spending approximately $1,800 on Christmas. This stat sort of blew my mind. I knew we were frugal but truthfully I didn’t think we were that far off the national average.

Especially now that we have a kid, Christmas is way more about her than it is us, in terms of gifts and celebration. Last year I actually convinced my husband to not get gifts for each other and instead go on a kid-free date. While we both had fun, my husband made it quite clear that he did not enjoy not getting me, as his wife, a gift. I truthfully didn’t mind, but he really loves to spend time buying ”his girls” presents, so I have re-instated a strict shopping budget for us to have fun with.

Aside from our daughter we only have a few other small gifts to buy for a few other family members, as well, a (real) Christmas tree and money for our annual Christmas party. All gifts, party, baking and booze included will be around $650. About 1/3 the average Canadian.

To me Christmas is not worth spending money on. I love Christmas. The smells, the traditions, the food, the friends and family, the gatherings. To me gifts are the absolute smallest part of the season. Even growing up, while I loved Santa and the anticipation of the day with my family it was never my favorite part. My favorite day has always been Christmas eve, going to church and spending the whole day and night together. My hope is that as my daughter gets older she’s able to feel the same way. Keep it close to her heart what’s really important to our family.

I am by no means suggesting if you do spend a lot of money it’s a bad thing I’m just curious to know what you plan on spending for your budget? Obviously the larger the family you have, the more you may spend, and generally you can get away with spending less on younger children (it will be a few years before letters to Santa in our house include extravagant gift requests) but I love the idea of a much lower-key Christmas gift exchange.

I love the idea of buying gifts for my daughter and either doing a large family outing in lieu of gifts or doing a secret-santa style gift exchange with only one other person, setting a modest budget. I don’t think it will happen though, I’ve married into a very generous family who, though don’t focus on it as being the main importance of the day, loves to exchange gifts with each other ;)

Has your budget changed a lot over the years? Can you believe Christmas is in ONE MONTH?!

When Was The Last Time You Enjoyed Your Money?

My husband and I make decent money but rarely do I actually get to enjoy it. Since most of our money goes towards debt and other household bills like heat and mortgage, the money we do have ”left over” is used with discretion. Outside of groceries, gas and the day-to-day boring stuff, we usually end up spending on stuff we need, like the shoes my husband desperately needs replacing. For some, buying new shoes may be fun, when it’s an absolute there’s-a-big-hole-in-the-sole type of situation, it’s a little less fun.

Today however I plan on enjoying some of our money. After work I’m going to a concert with my best friend and it will be great! As soon as I heard Brad Paisley was coming to town, what seems like forever ago, I knew that was what I wanted for my birthday. I chatted with my husband and he agreed that if that’s what I wanted as a gift for my 30th birthday then we’d spend the money. The ticket was bought and paid for months ago so outside of it being on my calendar, and me seeing the reminder daily, I almost forgot about it.

I’ve always been one who would rather spend money on experiences than things. I’d much rather have these memories with her than something I’ll wear for a while and then throw away or donate and totally forget about. For me doing something like this, going to dinner and a concert with my best friend is the best way I could enjoy my money.

One of the biggest motivators in us paying the debt off is so we can have more of these memories. While not all memories include spending money when I think about my favorite memories they’re usually from a vacation with my family or a concert or something ”special” (like the super delicious dinner we recently had in memory of my 20’s, aka my 30th birthday). Most of which require spending money.

We do a pretty good job at enjoying life while paying this debt off, I am by no means complaining about our life but I can’t help but wait for the feeling of buying something and enjoy it totally guilt free. Not spending it and immediately thinking about what I should be using the money on, or shopping on credit, or simply not spending at all because we can’t, or don’t want to.

I look forward to the day when I can go to a concert, or trip or buy the shirt or dinner out and think to myself ”I worked my butt off for ”this” and I’m going to enjoy it!’. I work to support my family but I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy it too (within reason of course ;)).

When was the last time you really enjoyed your money??

Why We Need to Redefine the Indications of Wealth

Last week on my blog, Jordann had a comment that made me think. In commenting about assumptions about her (and her husband’s) financial life, she said:

‘’…People who don’t read my blog think I’m poor because my husband and I live on a pretty strict budget and don’t spend money on items that would indicate wealth…’’

According to Wikipedia, wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions.

It saddens me to realize this. I think if you asked anyone if they would like to be ‘’wealthy’’ the answer would be yes. Given the choice I’d certainly rather be wealthy than not. While I understand that the definition of wealth is up for interpretation, working with the public for as long as I have has taught me one thing, most people would not reinterpret the definition of wealth. Most people would equate wealth with the acquisition of ‘’stuff’’.

Most of this stuff adds no value to our lives, it simply clutters it. It clutters not only our lives but our thought processes. Since we live in a society that largely looks for social acceptance, if it’s a ‘’wealthy’’ circle we’re looking to be in, how else would one be accepted if not for materialistic items? When we live our lives chasing the perfect definition of wealth we’re in this constant state of needing more ‘’stuff’’ and logic has it the ‘’wealthier’’ we are, the more stuff we’d need to prove that.

The big problem being that people are equating stuff with wealth, regardless of how they come into these objects. The abundance of material possessions is not something that indicates wealth to me, nor can we assume someone who has a lot of material possessions is wealthy. In today’s age of credit, it doesn’t require true wealth to have a lot of any one thing, unfortunately.

If you truly do have a lot of money and assets, I’m not suggesting you don’t go out and enjoy it, though I do hope you’ll do some good with it too…What I am suggesting is that if you’re living your life accumulating stuff thinking it will make you wealthy, you’re in for a big, unhappy, surprise. While money can’t buy happiness, if you have money it certainly can be enjoyed, but if you don’t (have money), spending the money (you don’t have) will leave you miserable, not wealthy. You’re chasing a dream that doesn’t exist.

So while Wikipedia’s definition of wealth ‘’is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions’’ I think it needs to be altered to ‘’wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions which one gains through inheritance or earned through wages’’ OR wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions not bought on credit, or with your kids diaper money, or from illegal activity’’. Whatever definition you choose to adopt, remember that the acquisition of stuff does not equal wealth. True wealth is more about the life you choose to live than the objects in it.

How do you define wealth? Do you consider yourself wealthy?